To The People No One Imagines Anything Of
In Parliament when we start a speech or enter a debate, we must declare any interests or allegiances before we begin speaking. I start by saying “My Lords, I must first declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s Digital Advisor…” Well today, I must declare my interest as Ben Shields’ Mom and to apologise to him in advance if anything I write here will embarrass, humiliate or otherwise cause him undue stress or anxiety. I am sure he has your sympathies.
Everything you do in high school is about preparing for the future. Academically, it’s about giving you the tools you need, the foundations of knowledge you require and the basis for higher education. It’s about getting you into the best university possible based on very conventional methods of assessing your potential (also known as “grades”).
As with many things, the way success is measured has changed in the real world.
Unfortunately for you, the way you are assessed in school has not, for decades.
I sympathise with those of you who find these assessments limited, even insulting to your intelligence. You might know in your heart that you have more potential than that score on a paper or a standardized test, but that’s where we are at the moment. And for the time being, it continues to be how we get to the next stage.
At this point I’d like to take a minute for us to acknowledge how much this sucks and how unfair it all is.
Great, now that we’ve put all this angst behind us, let’s talk about getting lost.
I’m a big fan of getting lost from time to time. It reminds me that despite how much we’d like our lives to be predictable, they’re not. It reminds me that despite how much we’d like to have control over our lives, we can’t. That despite how much we’d like other people to do what we want them to do, to be what we want them to be, they won’t.
But getting lost also reminds me how much we have inside of us. How much we are capable of. Capable in ways that will never be reflected in what a simple score reveals.
I am not here to say that getting high marks is not important. It is very important. But I am here to talk today about what else is important. And if you remember nothing else from our conversation today, please remember this …
What happens in high school is not predictive of your future. It’s not the end. In fact, it’s only the beginning of your adult life. A prologue, if you may. You are the author of your own life story and you and you alone will be writing it. Your destiny is completely in your hands.
Many of you will find this concept scary. Your initial reaction will be to search for structure and certainty. You might even try to emulate your more “successful” classmates, thinking they’ve got it all figured out.
This will be a mistake. Because fast forward 20 years, I guarantee that you will be surprised by who in your class has achieved success and what they have done.
Many of those with great grades will of course achieve success, but there will be others that will leap far ahead. So far that we might think they got lost and will never get back to the well travelled road we call “being a grown-up.” Then one day you’ll hear their name and discover they landed on Mars, or cured Ebola, or built a heli-car.
And you will say “how can it be? They weren’t even on the radar.” And it’ll turn out that they were always on the radar. Their own radar.
I keep saying “they” but i’m really talking about you. All of you. You might not know it yet, but your mission is to leave a mark on this earth, make it a little bit better than when you inherited it.
“Ha!” you might say. Easy for her to speak about leaving a mark. And there you will be wrong again. I was so bashful and afraid when I was your age, you would not imagine…
Some among you say that you already know what you want to do in life. Imagine that but forgive me for asking, are you sure? Keep an open mind or you just might miss something spectacular, a road less traveled that leads to a world of amazing discoveries. I once had a professor who said that at 18 you have to be a liberal. Some of my more conservative leaning friends took offense to his comment but what he was saying was actually true. You have your whole live to live before you close your mind and become set in your ways and opinions.
Most of the 15 year-olds I knew when I was growing up had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives. Actually, most of the interesting grownups I know still have no idea. But they’re out there, writing their story, trying things out. Exploring, taking risks, sailing uncharted waters.
The Enigma code breaker and computer scientist Alan Turing once said, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Remember that.
Those of you who might feel mis-understood, under estimated or under appreciated for the ideas and talents that you know in your heart are special. Remember that quote and never loose faith in yourself.
Those of you who are questioning what life is all about, feeling anxious, feeling somehow that the train has left the station and that you are not on it. I want to reassure you that this is ok. Most of those trains go to Birmingham anyway.
But just behind that train, on a little known platform, is yours. Your own personal Hogwarts station. And when you catch up to it, running and breathless, you’ll take a seat and know that it’s going your way.
Baroness Joanna Shields serves as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Digital Adviser and a conservative life peer in the House of Lords. She is a dual American-British citizen, Chair of Tech City UK and non-executive director of the London Stock Exchange Group.